Gerry Goffin was one of the legendary songwriters who, at one time, were headquartered in the Brill Building. His recent passing reminds us of how important these songwriters were to maintaining the high quality of songs recorded in the early years of the rock era. These songwriters often added a touch of class to what could have been a barren wasteland.
Here are some of the most successful songwriters who once worked out of the Brill Building at 1619 Broadway and across the street at 1650 Broadway in Manhattan. Of course, not all of their hits were written while they were in their Brill Building cubicles or during their tenures there.
“He had a profound impact on my life and the rest of the world. Gerry was a good man and a dynamic force, whose words and creative influence will resonate for generations to come,” Carole King said in a statement released upon hearing of the death of her ex-husband and songwriting partner Gerry Goffin at age 75.
King and Goffin were an unusual husband-wife songwriting team in that the husband wrote most of the lyrics and the wife wrote the music. Many rock and roll songwriters of that era were frustrated classical music composers who turned to writing pop music as an alternative. But King wanted to write rock and roll music from the outset. She was inspired by going to see Alan Freed’s rock and roll shows.
Some of King and Goffin’s best songs written as a team or separately would include: “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “The Loco-Motion,” “Up On The Roof,” “It’s Too Late,” “Go Away Little Girl,” “You’ve Got A Friend,” “Take Good Care Of My Baby,” “One Fine Day,” “Hey Girl,” and “Run To Him.”
The Goffin-King songwriting team was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the non-performers category in 1990.
Jerry Leiber wrote the lyrics while Mike Stoller provided the music. They are known primarily for supplying Elvis Presley with many of his biggest hits. Seven of Leiber-Stoller’s top 30 songs were recorded by Elvis, according to “Billboard’s Hottest Hot 100 Hits.” Some of best songs by Leiber-Stoller are: “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Stand By Me,” “Don’t,” “Kansas City,” “Charlie Brown,” “Yakety-Yak” and “Spanish Harlem.”
Their work earned them a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the non-performers category in 1987, the second class the Hall elected.
Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil were another husband and wife team who spent some time working out of the Brill Building. Among their top songs written together or separately are: “Never Gonna Let You Go ,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” “He’s So Shy,” “(You’re My) Soul And Inspiration,” “Don’t Know Much,” “I Love How You Love Me,” “Somewhere Out There,” and “On Broadway.”
They joined the RRHOF in 2010.
Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich were yet another husband and wife songwriting team. For a while they specialized in supplying Phil Spector with material for his “Wall of Sound” productions. Among their bigger songs written together or with other collaborators are: “Sugar, Sugar,” “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” “Chapel Of Love,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Leader Of The Pack,” “Hanky Panky,” “Be My Baby,” “Till He Kissed Me,” and “I Honestly Love You.”
Like Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, the Jeff Barry-Ellie Greenwich songwriting team was inducted into the RRHOF in 2010 as non-performers.
Mort Shuman and Jerome “Doc” Pomus collaborated from 1956-66. Although Shuman was 11 years younger than his partner, he worked well with Pomus, with Shuman handling the bulk of the music and Pomus most of the words. Like Leiber-Stoller, the Pomus-Shuman songwriting team was often a source of material for Elvis Presley. They also wrote several songs for teen idols Fabian, Dion, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell and Bobby Darin. Among their best known songs are: “Save The Last Dance For Me,” “Teenager In Love,” “Little Sister,” “Suspicion,” “Viva Las Vegas,” and “Surrender.”
Pomus was elected to the 1992 class of the RRHOF in the non-performers category, while Shuman had to wait until 2010 for induction.
The duo of Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield wrote several hits for Sedaka himself and songs for other artists like Connie Francis. Sedaka had 12 top 30 hits from 1958-63. Like many other American recording artists, he was severely hampered by the British Invasion. Some of the bigger hits written by Sedaka alone or in partnership with Greenfield include: “Love Will Keep Us Together,” “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do,” “Laughter In The Rain,” “Where The Boys Are,” “Oh! Carol,” “Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen,” and “Calendar Girl.”
As a music publisher, producer and promoter, Don Kirshner should also be recalled here. Kirshner started out writing songs and ad jingles before moving on to become a music-industry impresario. In 1958, Kirshner cofounded Aldon Music, the top music publisher of the Brill Building era. Known as “the Man with the Golden Ear,” he hired many songwriters to work for his company at the Brill Building, and he nurtured the talents of his stable of writers. By 1962, there were 18 songwriters on his Aldon payroll, including most of the aforementioned names. He also helped match the right songs to the right singers. Kirshner was added to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a non-performer in 2012.
Singers were nothing without the songwriters
All of the songwriters featured in this article have been elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Before the coming of the singer-songwriter age, where more and more singers wrote their own material, recording artists totally relied upon songwriters to get them decent material. Where would we have been without all these great songwriters who once worked out of the Brill Building?
“Billboard’s Hottest Hot 100 Hits,” Fred Bronson, Billboard Books, 1995
“The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, 9th Edition,” Joel Whitburn, Billboard Books, 2010
“The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, 5th Edition,” Fred Bronson, Billboard Books, 2003